This 2 DVD set is an amazing addition to If on a Winter's night the album. I'm not quite sure why they deleted the `If on' from the title of the DVD but maybe that's because there are more songs than which are featured on the album and they didn't want to define this DVD that way. This was an awesome Christmas present that I'd requested and it really suits the Christmas mood and Winter period with religious, festive and secular songs. If you enjoyed the album then you will definitely enjoy the live performance of songs plus additional songs which aren't featured on the album. Nearly all songs from the album are performed live and there are 4 songs included which aren't on the album and one which is on the deluxe CD/DVD edition which I own. The songs are performed fantastically live and Sting has an orchestra behind him as well as the studio artists who played with him on the album. He has backing vocalists and on one song he borrows a choir of boys to sing with him from the cathedral. The musicians and vocalists he uses are from all over the world so there's a wide variety of cultures and styles present. Add to that the incredible setting of Durham Cathedral which fits in amazingly with the religious songs on the album, it is simply captivating. This was filmed on the 17 and 18th September, which isn't a very Wintry time, but listening to this in the Winter makes that irrelevant.
It's probably smarter to watch the documentary first which documents the genesis of the live performance and also talks a lot about the album. It has Sting visiting places in his home town of Newcastle with Robert Sadin, the producer of the album and conductor of the live performance. It's great if you are interested in Sting's history to hear him talking about his memory of the town he grew up in, his father, the sites and catching up with former band-mates he used to play with back in the days before The Police. When I think about Sting back then and how he is now, especially in terms of his style and demeanour, he seems like a different person. If you have seen the DVD from the CD/DVD version then you will notice that some of the footage has been culled from that for this DVD, or the other way around. That's not disappointing though because most of this focuses on Durham Cathedral and Sting viewing the prospect of the building, whereas the deluxe DVD is about the studio recordings. The Live performance for the most part is more impressive than listening to the album. What a great performance the musicians display as well as the orchestra which backs the rest of the group up. Kathryn and Peter Tickell on fiddle, Dominic Miller on guitar, 3 vocalists from very different parts of the world, Julian Sutton, a fellow Geordie on Melodeon and Vincent Segal on cello among others. Every musician seems to give it 100% and that's why it's so impressive. Some of the best songs like Christmas at sea (which we also find out the meaning of on the documentary), Soul cake, Cherry tree carol (which I was impressed with simply because it's just Sting's soaring vocals and a few strings he plucks in between vocals on the guitar), The hounds of Winter are performed excellently and in style. Sting also explains about every song he performs which is really helpful if you are not familiar with the diverse music spanning from the 14th century, 16 century and 19th century to more recent tunes. I suppose that he probably felt the need to do this for a live audience to appreciate the songs meaning. It's informative even if you knew what he was explaining like I did for some of the songs. With the songs, Sting's great vocals and the captivating sounds of the musicians, together with the setting of an ancient and historical Cathedral, this is something which most people will appreciate even if they weren't fans of the album. This is a must-have accompaniment to the album because it just ties everything together perfectly. The atmosphere is amazing with the songs he performs and the lighting effects which are displayed over the scene. The audience in front (which I'm sure is very small compared to what Sting is usually used to) and then the place which it is performed in is a collection of enchantment. Even with the songs which I wasn't a big fan of on the album, I appreciated more seeing them here.
The documentary apparently lasts for 52 minutes according to the back cover and the live concert lasts for an hour and a half, which I will vouch for. It's the ultimate gift for this winter and it really seems to open my mind on the season and all it has to offer. Excellent!